Well .. I´m back in Florida and catching up on all the notes and drawings and postings from my UK trip. I managed to incorporate Kew Gardens, West Dean, Lincolnshire, London, relatives, and friends old and new, and made a few drawings too. The courses were excellent, the countryside was beautiful, all the exhibitions were inspirational and the weather was kind.. what more could you ask.
I have quite a few posts to make so I apologise in advance to my readers if your inbox gets a bit clogged..
On Saturday I had returned to the Amazing Rare Things Exhibition at Buckingham Palace to have another look at the beautiful work of the natural history artists chosen from the Queen’s collection. This time I took the audio guide which is included in the price of the ticket and is well worth the listen. It really puts everything in context and having David Attenborough with you, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm would surely persuade even the staunchest abstract artist to appreciate the skill and beauty of these paintings. While I was looking again at the tiny detailed Leonardo drawings made in red chalk I noticed that on the drawing of the Star of Bethlehem, which dominates the page, there is a little sketch of a euphorbia, sun spurge.. just like the ones I had drawn only 5 days previously here .. A strange coincidence from a distance of 500 years and while mine cannot be compared, its nice to think we both found this funny little plant worth a quick study.
These were apparently made as studies for plants to be included in the lost painting of “Leda and the Swan”.
This, one of 2 known copies,is from the Borghese gallery in Rome dated approximately 1510 to 1520. It is impossible to see if there are in fact any euphorbia amongst the flowers at the base of the painting I guess I will just have to go to Rome to see for myself.
Leondardo’s Euphorbia ( and mine)
Star of Bethlehem, Wood Anemone and Sun Spurge c 1505-1511
and mine …
When is a flower not a flower? .. when its a cyathium…
Whilst looking at the plants here at West Dean I became fascinated by the different types of eurphorbia which were growing along the paths bordering the stream walk. The “tops” are different according to the different varieties and the structures of the flowering parts are all different and very dainty.
The “flowers” are made up of a cyathia which is an inflorescence consisting of a cuplike cluster of modified leaves which encloses a female flower and several male flowers. Male flowers, the stamens, are included in the cyathia, while the female flower, the little ball with the tassels, sticks out of each cyathium on a long stalk.
The cyathia are all different shapes and the name comes from the Latin meaning a ladle..so it is maybe more helpful to think of it as spoon, rather then cup, shaped.
This diagram may explain better…
and here are a few sketches of the “flowers”. I will, I am sure, be returning to these fascinating little plants. The euphorbia family is extensive and I have already included one of it members, the Crown of Thorns here.
This is a very strange little plant. I saw it growing close by, in the border under the bauhini tree. Initially I had no idea what it was and kept this small piece here in the studio for about a week in water. It is so pretty and I am hoping to propagate it despite the thorns.
The drawing is in pen and ink and comes with a few sketches I had made on the side of the page. (..a bit like showing your workings in the old maths exams). The main drawing is done with a fine felt tip pen, the sketches on the side with dip pen and brown ink which I still prefer for its more expressive line.
Crown of thorns is a succulent, belonging to the Euphorbiacea or spurge family which also includes the poincettia, casava and the hevea rubber plant. (there is the most fascinating short article here about rubber.) Its Latin name is euphorbia milii.
Euphorbias appear to be named after Euphorbus a Greek physician to the interesting King Juba II (approx 50 BC to 19 AD) of Numidia a region of north Africa now Algeria. The “milli” after Baron Milius, who introduced the species to France in 1821.
As you can imagine it was thought to have been the plant used for the “crown of thorns” worn by Christ which may be, in part, because of its pliable stems but there are other contenders for that role.
The latex from the spurge family is toxic and can cause dermatitis, have stupifying effects if ingested, and as the name spurge implies, has been used as a purgative in medicine. It is just another delightfully dangerous addition to my growing list of poisonous plants .. the garden is a hazardous place and my enemies had best beware my newly acquired knowledge!
Crown of Thorns